The growth of rock & roll supergroup Queen and the life of Freddie Mercury are brought to the big screen in Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Biopics are a tricky thing when it comes to storytelling as it’s difficult to find out what the film will actually be about. To my mind the best examples pick a small section of the life of the subject and craft a narrative that summarises who they were at that particular time while showing it to be a defining part of their existence that can also prove interesting to audiences. The weaker examples often serve as something of a cinematic photo album delivering snapshots of the entirety of a person’s life without ever really focusing on anything. For me the latter example doesn’t work as well because those sorts of stories are often lacking in depth.
Bohemian Rhapsody is more the latter than the former though that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad film. Freddie Mercury is a man who offers no shortage of material for storytelling thanks to a colourful life with many different narratively interesting experience. The plethora of material is the first obstacle that needs to be overcome as a decision needs to be made on what the real story is. Does the film focus on his sexuality, his battle against aids, his relationship with his family, his relationship with the other members of Queen or should his career as a musician and performer be the focus? Any of those elements would naturally bring in aspects of the others but where’s the story?
This film doesn’t really answer that question as it focuses more on hitting the checkpoints rather than exploring them in any great detail. The formation of what would become Queen is over with a short trailer fodder conversation and the film doesn’t ever slow down from there. Queen’s journey from obscurity to fame and fortune happens far too quickly despite this potentially being an interesting period in their existence to cover though it would have been entirely against what this film set out to do.
From a structural point of view the film is framed around the creation of some of the more familiar hits. The birth of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a really fun sequence and the best example of these with the rest being mixed in their execution. In all cases there was an attempt to make a profound statement about who wrote the song and what exactly inspired it. Basically a song is created, the film spends some time exploring the impact of that song and then it moves onto the next one. It does this until the recreation of Queen’s Live Aid performance and the film ends. It’s simple, elegant, easy to follow but just a bit predictable.
There’s an artificial quality to the storytelling that comes across as an account remembered through rose tinted spectacles which isn’t surprising given the involvement of the surviving members of the band. The end result feels more like fantasy than real life but the broad strokes are entertaining enough to carry the film nicely. Each segment is infectiously fun and the Queen songs peppered throughout are sure to please fans.
Rami Malek is incredible as Freddie Mercury. He completely nails the charisma, eccentricities and stage presence. There’s enough nuance to his performance to make him sympathetic when he needs to be and insufferable when the occasion calls for it as well. Thoughtful introspective moments are few and far between but when they appear Malek’s performance gives them as much attention as the crowd commanding stage performances which helps create a fully rounded character with humanity behind the legendary status. The script lets him down to some degree as there is the tendency to rush onto the next big moment in his life without resolving things properly.
His most significant relationship is with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton); the woman he was engaged to before realising that he was gay. It’s a really endearing connection that grows and changes as the film progresses though it would have benefited with more attention. Once again the film hits the major checkpoints but doesn’t really show how things got to that point. Malek and Boyton are electric in their scenes together and the relationship is never anything short of believable but it definitely deserved more attention as there were flashes of brilliance that never quite come through.
The recreations of some of Queen’s more celebrated performances are excellent with the standout being the recreation of a large chunk of Queen’s Live Aid performance. Rami Malek recreates these wonderfully while bringing his own spin to Freddie Mercury in these moments. In general this will be a crowd pleaser to fans of Queen and fans of film alike.
It can’t be said that the film really fails in any major way. It’s really well paced, the performances are great, recreations of famous performances are excellently done and it hits the major beats that Queen fans would expect. Rami Malek is incredible as Freddie Mercury both in how he recreates the stage performances and in the rare introspective moments. The story itself is rigidly structured and told through the lenses of rose tinted spectacles that make the story feel more like fantasy than real life but it never fails to be entertaining and there are flashes of greatness throughout. The recreation of Live Aid alone is worth the price of admission so there’s plenty to recommend for Queen fans and fans of film alike.
- Rami Malek’s incredible performance
- some fun music creation scenes
- the recreation of famous performance
- a well paced and entertaining story
- very little depth as the film rushes through the plot
- clear rose tinted spectacles in how the story is told
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